This guide covers TOP-5 best police scanners and the differences between their portable and desk models. You will learn what these devices can do and what they cannot. The guide elaborates on the things you should consider when shopping for your local police scanner and will help you to discover the strong and weak points of these products. A comparison chart containing the key features of these devices will come in handy for those who haven’t determined with a choice yet.

What is the best police scanner? The best option is a unit from a well-established brand. There are two such brands on the market to choose from — Whistler and Uniden. Then, the device should be portable and should not require much space. Perhaps, you will want to use it discreetly. The more features the unit has the better, but the emphasis should be put on programming and memory. Power source matters as well because the units running on AA batteries will eventually cost you more money than those powered by rechargeable battery packs. We believe that Uniden BCD436HP fits these criteria best.

What You Will Learn From This Guide:

Police and military matters were one of the earliest, most rapidly-advancing implementations of wireless voice communications. The first in-vehicle two-way radio systems were developed for both of these groups of brave men and women, and this technology has served both well in rapid response, fast inquiry, and overall making the world a safer place.

There are many reasons why citizens might want to be able to listen in on police radio chatter. Some people are conscientious and like to provide fair witness against things like abuse of power and police brutality (things that sadly can happen whenever flawed human beings are involved). Journalists (even YouTube) ones fine it useful for being on the scene of incidents quickly, covering events as they unfurl.

Others just like the thrill of being able to hear firsthand accounts of the action and “excitement” police encounter on a daily basis. Of course, those who like advance warning of dispatches for reasons we don’t condone, also have their reasons for having these devices.

Today, we’re going to learn about this technology. We’ll talk about how they work, the intricacies in the products available, and what to look for in these. We’ll look at some of the best products on the market for a reasonable price, and I’ll share my (in this case secondhand) experience with them.

How Does a Police Scanner Work?

Police communications work the same way as any radio broadcast. Radio waves (which consist of high-frequency photons) are transmitted on different bands, and converted via transistors, into audible sound on the other end.

Separating this from standard AM or FM radio is the ability for multiple receivers to also broadcast, not unlike CBs or walkie talkies. Police scanners lack the ability to transmit – transmitting on any government channel (under which police frequencies fall) is entirely illegal to do. However, it is not illegal to receive these transmissions. We’ll get more into legalities momentarily.

What are the Types of Police Scanners and their Differences?

Within RF communications, all of these scanners work on the same basic technologies, as the police radios themselves do. This limits the variation of circuitry, hardware and implementations that can be done with this sort of product (at least within reason and practicality). As a result, there are generally two main categories for these.

Portable Vs Desk Models

There are the pocket/portable solutions, which strongly resemble intricate walkie talkies, or old fashioned transistor radios with built in speakers. These usually have headphone jacks, some controls, and operate off of batteries (sometimes rechargeable).

Then, there are desk models, which more strongly resemble an old CB radio (minus the receiver/microphone), or a piece of stereo equipment. These tend to be more powerful, and have less electrical supply obstacles. These often have features that allow you to integrate it into stereo systems and for recording. These are pricier, and only dedicated users would actually need a set this expensive and elaborate.

It’s worth mentioning that some mobile phones are capable of using earbud wires to tune various radio frequencies. This is usually used for FM radio (although why anyone would listen to radio when their phone has Spotify or Pandora is a mystery). There has been success in tuning stronger transmissions on other bands, including CB frequencies, emergency weather frequencies, and police frequencies. The legalities of this one are cloudy solely due to extenuating circumstances.

What to Look for When Buying a Product

This is a relatively task-specific type of product, with limited features based around this task. That in mind, there are only a handful of really important things to consider, but those few things do merit a quick look over.

Weather/Emergencies

A lot of these also double as weather/emergency radios as well, and can automatically tune these in when they detect a broadcast. The issue with this is, amber alerts also use this. Amber alerts are very important, and the incidents that cause them are terrible.

However, the average person in the suburbs is going to be unable to do anything about these problems, and so, will be startled/awakened for no good reason. Many phones also have this, so most people know how stressful that alarm can be.

Ease of Use

We’re not going to give you a moral lecture; do you need to be able to hear these transmissions while on the go? A portable one will be your best bet in this case, obviously.

How important is it to be able to tune multiple frequencies and filter out noise? Because ease of use counteracts that, with those sorts of features adding unavoidable complexity to the experience.

Legality

It remains illegal to broadcast on these frequencies, but devices to listen them are completely legal, at least in the United States and Canada. Depending on where you live, your nation’s laws may differ regarding equipment.

TOP-5 Best Police Scanners

Read a review of TOP-5 best products at a price ranging from $80 to $450. There are both portable and desktop models, with the former being more expensive. These devices are programmable, have a grayscale LCD display and dynamic channel memory. Most of them run on batteries or are powered from line supply while the high-end model comes with a rechargeable power pack.

Handheld Digital Police Scanner | Uniden BCD436HP 

Handheld Digital Police Scanner Uniden: photoThis is your basic handheld scanner. At first glance, it just looks like a walkie talkie with a lot of extra inputs, and for all intents and purposes, it could be if it also had a microphone on it. Uniden is a name in devices like this. They also make telephones, walkie talkies, CB radios (yes they still exist), and other, similar technologies.

This means you can expect a level of quality from one of these, and that’s a damn good thing, given how expensive this particular unit is for its size. This is not a cheap device, and you better really need a handheld police scanner, if you’re going to go with these kinds of devices. The LCD screen leaves a lot to be desired, though. A device this costly should really have a better display.

Features

  • Form Factor – Handheld.
  • Weather Alert System – Yes.
  • Channel Memory – Dynamic.
  • Programmable – Yes.
  • Power Source – Rechargeable Power Pack.
  • Display – Grayscale LCD.

Performance

This works really well, and while the advanced controls are, well advanced and complex, this isn’t an overall difficult device to use. The sound will be good, and the reception and channel discriminator is top notch.

People associate Uniden with discount outdated technology, and yeah some components in this are old repurposed technologies, but they work well enough. I’m not a fan of the chintzy display on this, but they mainly did that for battery life, all things said and done.

Pros Cons
  • Portable.
  • Easy to use.
  • Versatile.
  • Programmable.
  • Good discrimination.
  • Bad display.
  • Ridiculously expensive for what it is.
  • Antenna is a bit long and obtuse.
  • Antenna likes to come loose.

Conclusion

This is the only handheld one we’ll be looking at, and it’s the most well-engineered one going, though it’s not perfect. I don’t like the display, and some of the engineering and form factor, but where it counts, it works fine.

Uniden BCD436HP: Check the current price

Analog Desktop Live Police Scanner | Whistler WS1025

Analog Desktop Live Police Scanner: photo

This is the classic desktop model, and it looks very much like a slight modernization of the older models that you’ve undoubtedly seen in movies. This is the sort of thing super heroes would listen in on police activity with, so they could go (illegally) be vigilante.

I don’t like the display on this one either, but it doesn’t try to do as much with it, due to dials and stuff being present to adjust controls more physically.

Features

  • Form Factor – Desktop.
  • Weather Alert System – Yes.
  • Channel Memory – Dynamic.
  • Programmable – Yes.
  • Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
  • Display – Grayscale LCD.

Performance

My only real complaint with this one is the speaker. It’s basically the same kind of cheap, plastic-grilled speaker that low-end clock radios and the like use. It’ll sound tinny and canned, and it won’t be very loud. Fortunately, you can hook a better sound system to it if you want.

These desktop systems, though, are only that useful if you spend a long time listening to these.

Pros Cons
  • Easy to use.
  • Versatile.
  • Programmable.
  • Good discrimination.
  • Physical controls.
  • Bad speaker.
  • One of those old antennas that can be bent or broken fairly easily.
  • Membrane keys are kind of awful.
  • Overall build feels a bit cheap.

Conclusion

This is cheaper than the handheld model, and one of the cheaper desktop models. I could see this being useful if you listen for activity from home a lot – my friend might’ve had one of these if they’d been affordable at the time.

Whistler WS1025: Check the current price

300-Channel Base/Mobile Police Scanner for Car | Uniden BC355N

300-Channel Base/Mobile Police Scanner for Car: photo

This is one of two very much vehicle-intended ones we’re looking at, though this one can also work as a desktop model.

This is useful for journalists or people just wanting to avoid police activity. This doesn’t require you to be into crime to have a use for – maybe you want to avoid traffic from accidents or something.

Features

  • Form Factor – Desktop/In-Car.
  • Weather Alert System – Yes.
  • Channel Memory – Dynamic.
  • Programmable – Yes.
  • Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
  • Display – Grayscale LCD.

Performance

So this one is mainly for cars, and it works fine for that. It also has a built in CB system, which is rare for these scanners. But just know, if you get pulled over and a cop sees it, while they can’t charge you for it (they’re not illegal), they will eyeball you suspiciously and be less friendly about tickets.

Pros Cons
  • Easy to use.
  • Versatile.
  • Programmable.
  • Good discrimination.
  • Physical controls.
  • Really only works for cars.
  • CB is a nice touch, but in the 21st century, not terribly useful.

Conclusion

For a dedicated car scanner, this is a pretty well-engineered piece of tech, though some features are a bit pointless in this day and age.

I also think this one will encourage police to be less forgiving if they see it in your car, wondering what you might get up to that has you wanting a police scanner in the first place.

Uniden BC355N: Check the current price

500-Channel Police Radio Scanner and Alarm Clock | Uniden BC365CRS

500-Channel Police Radio Scanner and Alarm Clock: photo

This is actually pretty much just a sleeker, overall nicer design of the previous desktop model. It’s cheaper, which is a little baffling, but the buttons and dials on this one are tactically nicer, the LCD is backlit, and the overall look of it just feels more modern.

Features

  • Form Factor – Desktop.
  • Weather Alert System – Yes.
  • Channel Memory – Dynamic.
  • Programmable – Yes.
  • Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
  • Display – Grayscale LCD.

Performance

There’s not much aside from cosmetics to differentiate this one from the other Uniden desktop model. The speaker still sucks, but this one’s a little better, and the overall user experience with this one just feels classier and more modern.

Pros Cons
  • Easy to use.
  • Versatile.
  • Programmable.
  • Good discrimination.
  • Physical controls.
  • I still hate the displays on these things. Nothing should use grayscale LCD in 2019.

Conclusion

I recommend this over the other desktop model, in most ways. It looks better, it sounds better, the controls feel better.

Uniden BC365CRS: Check the current price

Desktop Digital Police Scanner | Whistler WS1065

Desktop Digital Police Scanner: photo

Can I be honest? I don’t like these big boxy things, they take up a lot of space, and for no good reason. Transistors are tiny, and there’s no CRT in this thing, it’s not an oscilloscope. But, some people like designs like this, and it is very powerful.

Features

  • Form Factor – Desktop.
  • Weather Alert System – Yes.
  • Channel Memory – Dynamic.
  • Programmable – Yes.
  • Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
  • Display – Grayscale LCD.

Performance

Man, I hate membrane keys like these, and I really hate these unified four-directional buttons. They never feel good to press, and they look like the engineer got lazy. But, it’s powerful, so there is that.

Pros Cons
  • Easy to use.
  • Versatile.
  • Programmable.
  • Good discrimination.
  • Physical controls.
  • I hate the controls on this one. And it’s too bulky.

Conclusion

I recommend this one only to people who value a lot of kit in their setups, as you can get the same power with less BS controls from most other models on this list.

Whistler WS1065: Check the current price

Comparison Chart of Police Scanner Effectiveness

Product Features

Uniden BCD436HP

Form Factor – Handheld
Weather Alert System – Yes
Channel Memory – Dynamic
Programmable – Yes
Power Source – Rechargeable Power Pack
Display – Grayscale LCD

Effectiveness: 10

Whistler WS1025

Form Factor – Desktop.
Weather Alert System – Yes.
Channel Memory – Dynamic.
Programmable – Yes.
Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
Display – Grayscale LCD.

Effectiveness: 9

Uniden BC355N

Form Factor – Desktop/In-Car.
Weather Alert System – Yes.
Channel Memory – Dynamic.
Programmable – Yes.
Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
Display – Grayscale LCD.

Effectiveness: 8

Uniden BC365CRS

Form Factor – Desktop.
Weather Alert System – Yes.
Channel Memory – Dynamic.
Programmable – Yes.
Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
Display – Grayscale LCD.

Effectiveness: 8

Whistler WS1065

Form Factor – Desktop.
Weather Alert System – Yes.
Channel Memory – Dynamic.
Programmable – Yes.
Power Source – Batteries or wall voltage (AA).
Display – Grayscale LCD.

Effectiveness: 10

My Personal Experience with Police Scanners

So, I’ve never owned one of these. Radio equipment as a whole has never been a technology I messed around with much, despite my understanding of the technology. However, I had a friend back in California who had one. In order to share this experience, I have to confess to a mild history of doing something illegal, as I used to often partake of a certain recreational herbal supplement, as did said friend.

Well, he had that scanner, because this was a poorer time in my life, and this was low income housing for people on Section 8, or for recent graduates low on funds due to starting out in the big boy world. Back then, I was the latter. Having a lot of shaky cases living there, the police were called into the place often.

We liked to know when they were around, as they were keenly aware that substances abounded in the place too, not all of them as basically harmless as the herbal one we enjoyed. So he had a scanner, and he always knew if cops were on their way, or were on the property, so we could take precautions accordingly.

Well, one day, there we were sitting there enjoying our smoke and playing spades, when the thing goes off, and we hear his apartment number and what we thought was the name of our building. They were already on site, and approaching the apartment.

That was a time of absolute panic, worsened by the natural paranoia that that substance can instill if your mind and mood goes the wrong direction without asking. We scrambled to bag everything up, to hide it in a place they couldn’t look. We must have emptied 20 cans of Lysol air spray in there, and had ten sticks of incense burning. The place wreaked of sandalwood and “spring meadow” antiseptic spray.

Turns out, his scanner was just one with poor reception and a less than fantastic speaker, the name of the building was very similar, but one on the other end of town, and they’d been called over a violent incident.

We didn’t find this out until several hours later, when said incident made the news as we’d been sitting there, sweating bullets and wondering if they were waiting outside the door to pounce on us. Oh man, it sucked.

FAQ

What is the best police scanner on the market?
The handheld Uniden is definitely up there.

Can they hear cell phones?
No, cell phone transmissions are gigahertz signals, and are mostly digital now.

Can police scanners be traced?
No, a transmission must be made for that to happen.

Are they legal?
Yes, in most first world countries such as the US.

Will they become obsolete?
Eventually, yes they will.

Pros and Cons of Using These Products

Pros

  • You know what’s going on.
  • Cops know they can be heard, they watch what they do and say.

Cons

  • They’re noisy.
  • They can be hard to tune.
  • Police assume you’re suspicious if you have one. They can’t arrest you, but they will profile you.

Conclusion

I am certain one of these will suit your needs, but just make sure you get good sound, and be careful who knows you have it, due to the image they convey.